By Dr. Dave Hnida


(CBS4) – It’s a big dilemma for many sports-minded parents: Should I let my child play football, or some other contact sport? This is an important question, especially with more and more publicity about CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is believed to be brain damage from years of contact sports, particularly football. And it’s evident parents are worried enough to hold their kids out — a fact reflected by the steady drop in youth participation in football over the past five years.

But now comes a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder which may offer some reassurance to concerned parents.

(credit: CBS)

The study is published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, and is the largest and longest to look at the issue. Other studies have been performed but the results have been unclear, and many of the studies have been small and/or short.

This research followed nearly 11,000 kids for 14 years, with the starting point being 7th to 12th grade, all the way until these children reached their late 20s and early 30s. About one in four played football.  Other contact sports included activities such as soccer, lacrosse, hockey and similar.

Researchers report they found no difference in brain function, recall, and memory in those who played contact sports as compared to non-contact sports participants ( or those who did not play sports) over the years into early adulthood. Also of note, there were no differences in mental health issues such as depression or suicide.

However, there are several issues that the study was not designed to look at:

How many players in the group suffered a concussion or even lesser head injuries?

If they did, how many?

Are young brains more easily damaged than older ones?

What level did the kids play at? The higher the level, the faster and bigger the players and … the harder the hits.

The study did not address how much or long the players actually played.

The study also was not designed to look at the children as they reached age 40 and older.

Bottom line: Is this study the final word? Not at all. There still is quite a bit of research to be done.

Nonetheless, the study is a good one, and should make you feel better about the risks.

Personally, the study doesn’t completely change my mind. I had two children play all the way from youth leagues to the major college level. And in light of what we know now, I’m not so sure I would have given the green light for them to play at very young ages. But that’s me.

We just don’t know all we need to know, which is why studies like this are so valuable. Your decision remains a tough one.

Dr. Dave Hnida


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